Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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We do a nice job of growing by referrals. Our clients are well-connected and many are comfortable telling their friends and family members about what we do and how we do it. The core planning we do is at the heart of their commitment to us. We spend several sessions preparing the first plan for a client; at every meeting, twice a year, we review changes and discuss any impact.
The issue is that even though referrals are strong, they come from only about 10% of our client base. Don’t misunderstand; 10% of 500+ families is a good number and we receive multiple referrals from each of these clients. The overall referral numbers are strong.
My concern is that 90% of our clients who are seemingly very happy with the relationship are not saying anything. We want to implement an initiative to grab the attention of these clients and help them help us grow.
Where do we start? What is the best way to approach clients who are not referring? Should we be happy with our 10% and just focus on these clients?
I take issue with your statement about helping your clients to help you to grow. This is a flawed way of looking at the possibility of gaining new introductions from your existing clients. While clients may want your firm to sustain the test of time and flourish to be there for many generations, it isn’t their responsibility to help you to grow. Not only does this increase your self-orientation and focus on “me,” it isn’t a compelling reason for a client to talk to someone they care about and introduce what you do.
You are right to review the 90% who are not making introductions. But first reframe your view on this to the fact that you want to help those they care about. You want to make others aware of the excellent work you do, and you want to provide support to people in their universe who need it.
I have worked with hundreds of advisors on this topic, including attending many lunches, dinners and events where segueing to referrals was a main focus. Here are a few things I have learned and suggest to my advisor clients:
- Don’t assume because your client has been with you for a while and has benefitted from what you do well that they are capable of turning around and talking to someone else about what you do. This is a key mistake advisors make. They believe because it is clear to them (because they live it every single day….) it is also clear to the client. You have to re-tell and re-sell clients periodically to remind them of what you do, what you have done and how you do it. This isn’t bragging; it is revisiting and reminding.
- Clients often aren’t sure who you want to work with. Many advisors will push back on the idea of having a niche market (or markets) because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed. But being vague or too open to new prospects can backfire because your clients need to be able to conjure up the idea of who you best serve. What is the profile? What needs do they have? What problems do you solve for them? The clearer you can be about who you support, the easier for clients to think about who fits.
- Never make it about your growth. It should legitimately be about your desire and sincere quest to help someone who needs your help. This applies whether it is a $50,000 investor or a $50 million family office. You provide a service that can be life-changing to an individual, partners or a family. Raising your profile so more people are aware of what you do and could avail themselves of your services should be your objective. Don’t put clients in an awkward position, so frame this as an interest in helping as many people as you possibly can.
- Ask clients what they need to share the good news about what you do. I’ve been in countless discussions where it is clear the client would like to talk about their advisor, but they aren’t sure where to start. They don’t necessarily want to reveal their own story and so in lieu of this, they aren’t sure where to start the conversation. If you want their help, help them to be comfortable with the dialogue.
This is a strategic process and should be treated as such. It isn’t about “Just ask!” It’s about being thoughtful about how you convey your interest to clients and how you support them in the effort to find others you can provide your excellent services to.
I am stung. We have a new initiative at our firm around client referrals. We are supposed to ask every client we meet with who else they know who they think we should be working with to continue to grow our firm.
I had a conversation with one of my clients. At the end of the discussion, after some difficult back and forth, the client said, “You have a nerve asking me to help you with growth. Shouldn’t your focus be entirely on growing my wealth?”
In retrospect, I should not have chosen this client to have one of my first discussions. But the pressure is so great here to make sure we ask everyone that I didn’t think I could avoid it.
This client is prickly most of the time. He never has a positive thing to say. If he did recommend someone, I don’t know if we’d want to work with them.
Is the idea of asking everyone a good one? Should I be pickier about who and how? But then my partners will be irritated I’m not logging every single client as having been asked in our system.
Do you think you should be asking everyone or are you embarking upon this approach because it has been mandated and you don’t want to push back or rock the boat at all with your partners? I can’t imagine a scenario whereby it would be a good strategic decision to bring this up and push for referrals with every single client interaction. When a client is prickly, unhappy or generally negative, that would be the last person I’d want to engage to find additional people they might know.
It sounds like your firm’s intention is good – let’s increase referrals and engage clients more often. But the methodology is flawed. Obtaining referrals should be a strategic, thoughtful process with clear implementation steps.
The first step is to segment the client base. This, by definition, means you would not approach everyone. The clients who have referred would be in one bucket. Those who have not been connected or might not have an opportunity to refer would be in another bucket. Those who should be referring but aren’t would go in another bucket. The “red” clients who might be unhappy (or prickly) would go in another bucket. Don’t throw everyone in together and treat them the same way.
Be considerate of how you are presenting the request to meet others to speak with about what you do. It shouldn’t sound like it benefits you, but rather how can you help those your client cares about. Be specific, for example, ask, “Are there people at your place of work considering early retirement we should be speaking with?” That will allow your client to focus their attention where you want it to be.
This discussion takes skill and preparation. Don’t jump too soon just to get these over with. Give it the attention and planning it deserves so you don’t walk away being “stung” by the interaction. It’s likely the client you asked didn’t feel too good about it either, and that’s not a lingering experience you want someone to have!
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.
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